Italy Turkey Discord Deepens Over Ocalan

ANKARA (Reuters)–Turkey on Monday decided to pull the plug on two Italian state-run cable television channels–underlining its increasing anger at Rome’s refusal to extradite Kurdish leader Abbdullah Ocalan.

Turkish Transport Minister Ahmet Arif Denizolgun was quoted by state-run Anatolian news agency as saying that Italy’s public Rai-1 and Rai-3 would be removed from broadcast on Monday evening.

The move was the latest in a salvo of punitive steps by Ankara following the decision last Friday of a Rome court to reject its extradition demand for Ocalan–the most wanted man in Turkey.

Italian law bars extradition to a country where the death penalty remains in force–as in Turkey.

Ripples from the row spread to the sports field on Monday with European soccer’s governing body UEFA being called in to adjudicate the venue for a match between Italian and Turkish champions Juventus and Galatasaray due to be held on Wednesday.

Juventus has expressed reluctance to travel to Istanbul–the scheduled venue.

"I’m not ashamed to say that I’m scared and I’m really not convinced about going to Turkey…." player Zinedine Zidane told La Stampa.

Travelers arriving in Rome from Turkey said–however–they felt no personal animosity there towards Italians.

On Monday Italian Defense Minister Carlo Scognamiglio struck back against Turkey’s weekend threat to rethink defense industry cooperation with Italy – and a possible $3.5 billion helicopter purchase.

"Even if Turkey is not an EU member–and therefore does not have to respect European rules for public bids to assign government contracts–discriminatory behavior surely…will not help Turkey draw closer to the EU–as is one of our hopes," the minister said in a statement.

Italy’s Prime Minister Massimo D’Alema also reminded Turkey that if it hoped to join the EU it should show signs it wanted to resolve the Kurdish problem peacefully and respect human rights.

Denizolgun said Turk Telekom would halt its sales to and purchases from Italian firms.

An unofficial boycott on Italian goods has also picked up pace. Major Turkish supermarket chain Gima said it had frozen its purchases of goods imported from Italy.

"We will maintain this (freeze) until the problem is resolved," the firm said in a written statement.

Officials at car maker TOFAS–a joint venture between Italian Fiat and Turkish Koc Holding said 1,000 car sales had already been canceled–and warned that Turkey’s economy could be badly affected by the protest.

"For a company which produces 100,000 cars a year–1,000 cars can be excused in the name of a national cause–but we are concerned that this loss will grow," a TOFAS official said–according to Anatolian news agency.

Ocalan has applied for asylum in Italy where he is free but has to report his whereabouts daily to the police. This is based on arrest warran’s from Germany–which has however signaled it has no intention at present to seek his extradition.

It has 40 days in which to do so.

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder will have to balance pressure from Italy–which would like the Ocalan problem to go away–against the potential threat to stability in Germany from between one and a half million Turks and half a million Kurds.

Political analysts say both communities have mixed well together but extremists on either side could resort to violence if Ocalan was tried in Germany.

Meanwhile the Vatican said it recognized the aspirations of the Kurdish people and urged dialogue on all sides to solve the Kurdish issue.

In Turkey–the government of Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz is on its last legs ahead of a no-confidence vote it is expected to lose on Wednesday.

The change is not expected to diminish official Turkish anger over Rome’s freeing Ocalan–which Yilmaz said could earn Turkey’s "eternal hostility."

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